Happy new year everyone!
Me – I delayed the advent of the new year a little by sorting and archiving old things. Boring, I know. But when I flicked through some old photos, I found something worth to get out of the cupboard: one of the very first dishes I made in order to photograph it with my analogue camera back in early 2012. It is not quite a light ‘detox’ dish, that you, as well as me, might be in need of after too much feasting (I’ve got something in mind there that will appear here soon) – but a real winter warmer. And since it’s likely that cold days are still to come, I thought it might be a nice suggestion. After all it is just a classic – a good old risotto – something you don’t really need a recipe for, which might be nice after all those Christmas menus. It is merely the colour combination of black and bright orange that is giving this risotto a little twist, something that will lighten the mood in the face of a grey and cloudy sky.
So although you can get an equally delicious result when using white risotto rice, I suggest to give the black rice a try. There are two varieties of black rice of which one isn’t botanically real rice at all, but comes from a water grass and is called wild rice. The grains are long an thin and therefore not suited for making risotto. What I used is black Venere rice from the Piemont, that, despite being black, looks very similar to the classic north Italian Arborio rice. Unlike the classic risotto rice it is unmilled with the black husk intact. This of course has the benefit that the nutrients and fibers found in this outer layer are still present. On the other hand I had my doubts that it would be possible to achieve the creamy constancy that is the secret of a good risotto. I usually soak all my grains to break down hard to digest phytic acids, of course you don’t have to that, but in this case I’d really recommend that step. Otherwise you might need to cook the risotto for much more than an hour before the rice softens.
Black pumpkin & sage risotto (Serves two)
200g black Venere rice
1 medium organic pumpkin such as Hokkaido (ca. 500g)
80g old Pecorino or Parmesan
1 clove of garlic
1 glass of dry white wine
ca. 50g butter
1 bunch of sage
2-3 springs of thyme
sea salt & pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp turmeric
2 cardamom capsules
Although this is an easy dish it is worth to start one day in advance with soaking the rice and preparing your own pumpkin stock. You can use vegetable or chicken stock, but making pumpkin stock uses up the scraps and enhances the flavour of the dish. Usually you don’t have to peel a Hokkaido pumpkin, but in this case I shaved off the peel in order to use it together with the pumpkin seeds to make the stock. I just set aside a quarter of the pumpkin that I did not peel, because I wanted to make some crispy pumpkin chips to top the risotto with. Halve two unpeeled shallots. Put a large pot on high heat add some butter or coconut oil and add shallots and the pumpkin’s peel and seeds. You really want to caramelize it to get a very rich roasting flavour. Add some salt, the bay leaf and then cover with 1 1/2 litres of water. Let simmer on low heat for about an hour and then strain the stock through a fine sieve.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Dice the peeled pumpkin. If you want to make the extra crispy chips, slice the unpeeled part of the pumpkin very thinly. Mix pumpkin with turmeric, salt, pepper and freshly ground cardamom and cover with melted butter or coconut oil. Place on a backing tray – the chips will only take a few minutes, so place them separate from the dices and take them out earlier. Roast the rest of the pumpkin for about 20 minutes until soft.
When you’ve made the stock in advance, reheat it a little on low heat. Drain off and rinse the rice carefully – the rice dyes very, very much! Dice the shallot and the garlic. Grate the cheese. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a saucepan, sauté the shallot, add the rice and start to stir it. When it has soaked up the liquid add wine and stir until it evaporated and then start adding the stock, one ladle at a time. Add the thyme springs and keep stiring. The black rice will take longer than the white one – about 50 minutes. In the meantime melt 2-3 tbsp of butter in a frying pan and fry the sage until crispy. Then place it on some kitchen paper to drain off the exess butter. Taste the rice when it starts to become creamy. It should be soft but still be a little al dente. Remove the thyme springs. Set aside a little of the cheese and add the rest to the risotto. Season with salt and pepper. Because the rice dyes so strong I did not stir the pumpkin in the risotto but placed it on top of it on the plates. Top with sage leaves and grated cheese and sprinkle with coarse black pepper.